Healthy Self-Esteem versus Low Self-Esteem

By S. Renee Smith, Vivian Harte

The core beliefs that formed your sense of self-worth as a child are just that — beliefs. They’re not necessarily true or accurate. They’re only your opinions. As opinions, they can be changed.

Healthy self-esteem and low self-esteem are two sides of the same coin. They both activate certain rules for living that either help you or hurt you.

If you have healthy self-esteem, you

  • Learn from past successes and look forward to future successes

  • Care for yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally

  • Create goals in your life and work toward them

  • Appreciate your positive qualities

  • Accept responsibility for your actions

  • Have confidence that you can accomplish things, even if it takes more than one try

  • Feel capable of meeting life’s everyday challenges

  • Are happy and sure of yourself

On the other hand, if you have low self-esteem, you

  • Compare yourself negatively with others

  • Are anxious, stressed, and worry a lot

  • Need others’ approval

  • Fear speaking up at meetings

  • Fear confrontation with others

  • Are shy to talk with others you don’t know

  • Focus on your shortcomings in the past

  • Have doubts about your worth

Taking care of yourself

Caring for yourself is one of the characteristics of having a healthy level of self-esteem. You can nurture yourself to create more happiness in your life and raise your self-esteem. Take care of your body by eating healthy foods, doing enough exercise, and getting regular, deep sleep.

Focus on positive emotions by shifting negative feelings that drain you to feelings that uplift and encourage you. Change your thoughts by talking to yourself in a loving manner.

One of the most common ways people experience low self-esteem is in the way they consider their body image. You must reconnect with the positive aspects of your body, while appreciating the real beauty that is on the inside.

Looking at positive and negative self-talk

Your sense of self-esteem is expressed through your inner thoughts. The statements you make to yourself determine how you value yourself and how successful you are in your life. This internal voice inside your head influences everything you experience.

Negative versus Positive Self-Talk
Negative Self-Talk Positive Self-Talk
I am stupid. I have strong abilities.
I can’t do it, so why try? I know I can do it.
I can’t speak up. I’m speaking up more all the time.
I’m too nervous to focus. I’m remaining calm and relaxed.
I’m never going to get a good job. I have confidence that I’ll get just the right job for
me.

Your mind deceives you in several ways to make you believe you have little value:

  • Mind-reading

  • Predicting a negative outcome

  • Overgeneralizing

  • Labeling yourself

  • Blaming yourself

  • Focusing on the negative and discounting the positive

  • Using “shoulds”

Do you use any or all of these in your everyday thinking? If so, it’s time to transform your thoughts into optimistic and positive ones.

Discarding unsuccessful strategies for improvement

You may feel you can improve your self-esteem by seeking approval from others. You seek reassurance that people like you, and you try to please others by doing everything they ask, even if you don’t want to. You feel insecure and may try to counter these feelings by becoming the center of attention.

You may use your education and workplace achievements to try to improve your sense of self-worth. You may earn more academic degrees or strive to get a better job at a more prestigious company.

Both of these may lead to greater competence in the workplace, but if you haven’t dealt with the underlying causes of your lack of self-esteem, you’ll find that once in the workplace, you may not believe you deserve the job you have, or you may procrastinate and belittle yourself if you make any mistakes, no matter how small.

In fact, if you’re like many people who have low self-esteem, you may feel you must be perfect at everything. If you aren’t, you criticize yourself mercilessly, and your productivity actually decreases over time. You suffer from perfectionism, frequently using negative self-talk that says you must do things perfectly all the time and that you’re not worth anything if you don’t do everything flawlessly.

Considering whether you can have too much self-esteem

Is it possible to have such a strong self-esteem that your confidence and pride are detrimental? Yes, this can happen. Pride can result in a large ego, one that demands that you’re always right and must be obeyed.

When you have a sense of self-worth that is too strong, you interrupt others when they’re speaking, try to impose your position on others, make decisions for others, and find fault with others without regard to their feelings. You’d rather cause harm or inconvenience to others than bring harm or inconvenience to yourself.

You may even use threats, such as “You’d better” and “If you don’t watch out,” as well as sarcasm and put-downs like “Oh, come on, you must be joking” and “You should have.” Your body language includes leaning forward with glaring eyes, pointing a finger, and using a raised or haughty tone of voice. You may even go so far as to humiliate others. Your aggressive manner encourages others to treat you in a fearful and defensive way.

Obviously, you don’t want to go this far. Having healthy self-esteem means being respectful of others and expressing what you want in a kind manner.